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KSP Hospital Poets bringing respite to WA medical staff

Last Friday 29 April 2016, the KSP Writers' Centre launched a ground-breaking new Medicine and the Arts poetry program, the first of its kind in Australia, in the Art Gallery at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. The inaugural session of ‘The Hospital Poets Series’ featured award-winning Perth poet and musician Kevin Gillam reading passages from various works of poetry interspersed with live cello music.

From left to right: KSP Centre Director Shannon Coyle, Poet and Director of Music Christ Church Grammar School Kevin Gillam,

Hospital Poets founder Dr Anna Soter, KSP Board member Mardi May, and Hospital Poets committee member Shey Marque

This was not, however, your typical poetry reading. There were no book sales. There was no analysis or academic discussion or self-promotion. The signature of a Hospital Poets reading, rather, is to provide a platform for poetry itself in an exclusive respite for hospital staff.

In the series originally launched in 2010 in Ohio by Australian poet and Professor Emerita Dr Anna Soter, Soter envisioned a place where medical staff could find relief from the pressures of their profession. ‘I believed that such a program would provide a space where staff could find a fountain of renewal and rejuvenation in the middle of a busy hospital day.’

While there are many well-being initiatives that focus on patients and healing, as recognised by the newly launched National Arts and Health Framework, Soter identified a gap for staff to receive the same. As medical personnel suffer from ever-increasing stress levels which negatively impacts personal health and the ability to deliver high quality care, this program is well-needed.

Kim Rosen MFA, best-selling author of Saved by a Poem (Hay House, 2009), refers to poetry as having a shamanic effect, noting that medical research confirms what many of us already know, that when a reader engages with poetry, namely, that ‘brainwaves, breathing and pulse literally change when we give voice to a poem.’ This is the effect that Gillam delivered to more than 50 people, a combination of both seated and passing observers, at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.

One of the poems that made listeners smile and spontaneously applaud was this clever ode to the life of a writer:

when a grasshopper

when a grasshopper landed on my study window last summer

I looked at it for long enough to leave the page and

climb inside and fly and feel the thrill of wheat rippling

beneath my wings and the beauty of panoramic vision

and wonder of touch through antennae and joy at

being able to jump two hundred times my height and

rub my thighs behind my back and oh

if only my yoga class could see me now, but

the couch grass diet got so tedious and

overnight flights so wearisome and my rear legs ached

and male sensibilities protested at

being left to do all the clicking and mating displays

so I climbed back through the study window

because writing is much easier

Kevin Gillam

Administered with the help of a voluntary sub-committee, KSP plans to continue delivering these unique poetry sessions to hospitals and medical centres throughout metropolitan and regional Western Australia. Please contact the office on or 9294 1872 if you would like to be involved.

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